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HCHS joins long list of schools with sex videos / November 18, 2019
“This is a challenge we face at school and in society. With the technology you have today, you can spread video with the push of a single button,” said Superintendent of Schools Mark Lineburg.

With six juveniles facing charges in the wake of sexually explicit video being shared around Halifax County High School, school and law enforcement officials confront multiple issues as they respond to the incident — all with the aim of preventing repeats down the line.

Production and dissemination of child pornography is a federal and state felony offense, yet news stories abound of studentsm, in high school and middle schools, sending cell phone sext messages and videos to their peers — only to land in hot water for their effort. Such missteps are as old as the smartphone itself.

A typical example of the genre is an Associated Press article about an Allentown, Pa. high school, where pornographic video and photos of two girls were widely distributed among members of the student body. The dateline for the article: Jan. 25, 2008.

“Students, minors, they haven’t fully developed yet and they’re going to make mistakes,” said Lineburg.

Unlike the mistakes of the past, which might only be remembered by classmates with the passage of time, sexually explicit material that finds its way online can take on unending life.

“It follows kids forever now,” said Lineburg. “That’s the difference between now and the 1980s when kid made mistakes,” before the advent of the internet. “Those mistakes wouldn’t follow them around forever.

“These kinds of situations are troubling, but they’re also heartbreaking. This stuff is different than it used to be. It’s just hard dealing with it,” Lineburg said.

Commonwealth’s Attorney Tracy Quackenbush Martin has given presentations at the middle school for years, warning children of the potential consequences of taking racy photos and videos and sharing the images by cell phone sext message or social media platforms. The video at the high school was spread through AirDrop, an iPhone service, and other cell phone apps.

Martin declined to elaborate on the charges against the six juveniles or the circumstances of the making of the video. Citing ethical guidelines for prosecutors in cases involving minors, Martin said she could not discuss the charging decisions against the students, five of whom are enrolled at HCHS. The sixth suspect is a former county student.

The charges were brought by the South Boston Police Department.

Although child pornography laws carry severe penalties, Martin noted that the sentencing guidelines for adult offenders do not apply to juveniles whose cases are heard in the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court system.

“The purpose of the whole juvenile crime system is rehabilitative,” she said. “The focus is not primarily on punishment, which is what the adult system is about.”

In addition to the six students who have been charged in the dissemination of the video, the case has entangled a number of students who shared the video around the high school.

While Martin declined to comment on that aspect of the case, or others, parents have been notified by the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office if their child may be at risk of potential criminal charges. According to Martin, Virginia law allows certain minors to enter into diversion programs to avoid such consequences.

“The purpose of any diversion program is to steer the offending child away from the traditional criminal justice system, teaching them important lessons without creating a juvenile court record,” Martin explained in a written statement. “Participation in any diversion program is not an admission of guilt. It is simply an alternative to the potential of further court action.”

The statement further noted, “the creation and sharing of sexually explicit videos among teens has become a serious problem both nationally and in this community. Under the law, photographs and videos depicting sexually explicit content involving minors is child pornography — the creation or distribution of which are felonies. This office takes them seriously.”

Asked if she has encountered an incident before like the one at HCHS, Martin replied, “This is the first of this severity and scope.

“I’ve been making presentations at the middle school for years to try to keep the kids aware of the dangers of this type of situation,” Martin said. “My policy approach is, this needs to stop. I’m using the tools I have, limited as they are, to try to make it happen.”

Lineburg said the county school division, too, is constantly working to educate students about the consequences of passing around sex videos and risque photos. He praised Martin for doing “tons of work, tons of forums” to educate middle schoolers, and said the recent incident at the high school shouldn’t be taken as a sign those efforts have been in vain.

“It’s easy to say it didn’t pay off, but maybe it did,” he said. “Just because you have this one [incident] doesn’t mean it isn’t effective. It may have kept others kids from doing things they shouldn’t.”

HCHS Principal Michael Lewis has also worked diligently to address the problem, Lineburg added, noting that educators cannot stop someone from taking compromising photos or videos in off-campus settings and then posting the materials for members of the student body to receive and spread. It’s up to the student to not tap on their phones and accept the offending images.

Lewis has dealt with similar, if less widespread, situations before, Lineburg said.

“Michael Lewis has worked on this for some time. I think he’s tried to help families and kids and find appropriate ways to address it.”

However, Lineburg added that while the administration is aware of the scope of the problem and the societal challenges involved, and will work with students and families to mitigate potential damage, “We absolutely will follow our policy and our student code of conduct” to enforce rules against the sharing of sexually explicit materials.

“Every child is at risk,” said Lineburg. The dangers are heightened by the potential of long-lasting consequences. “Things that happen in 2019, they [students] don’t understand the impact,” the superintendent said. “In 2035, they may still be dealing with it as adults.

“Everyone we have in public schools is a child. They’re going to err, and that is the fact. It’s up to us to educate them, make them aware, and have interventions when we need to,” said Lineburg.

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My question would be if the 6 individuals are still permitted on school grounds while their charges are pending? I know everyone is innocent until proven guilty, but my understanding is that these charges could be felonies and I thought you could not be on school grounds with a felony or charges pending. Also, these could be viewed as sex crimes and those charged should not be in the same setting as those that are the victims. Seems like other schools deal with these incidents with seriousness and severity and Halifax goes with their old stand by of, "not much we can do" attitude that has the schools in the shambles that they are in now.

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